Picture This

Roku Stepping Up To The Plate

8/13/2009 1:44 PM

Don’t look now, but Roku is quickly becoming a key player in the home entertainment industry and a formidable competitor to cable, satellite and telco companies.

Already a growing threat to cable’s linear video-on-demand business with its instant video streaming of movies and TV shows from DVD-by-mail company Netflix, the company earlier this week reached a deal with Major League Baseball to distribute the league’s web-based MLB.TV live game out-of-market package through its $99, broadband-connected TV settop box.

Subscribers to the $110 MLB.TV online package can now watch as many as 100 games a week on their television sets through the Roku player.

Through my Roku player last night I watched the Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher Pedro Martinez step on the mound for the first time in nearly a year; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates; and the Twins’ reliever Joe Nathan shut the door on the Kansas City Royals with no signal interruptions and a relatively clear picture.

The Roku/MLB.TV deal also allows subscribers to access the previous week’s games on demand, so I was able to easily watch Tuesday night’s Boston Red Sox-Detroit Tigers brawl in its entirety.

Certainly the images aren’t nearly as clear as the high-definition-enhanced, cable and satellite-distributed $199 MLB Extra Innings package, but it’s more than acceptable.

Further, the Roku deal makes the MLB.TV package more valuable because now subscribers can enjoy live games both on the web and on their 60-inch television screens without having to purchase the MLB Extra Innings package, which is more expensive and doesn’t include online access to the games.

And Roku isn’t just pitching to baseball. The company is in talks with at least one other pro sports league to gain distribution rights to that league’s online out-of-market live game package.

Roku’s relatively small base of users – the company says it’s distributed “hundreds of thousands” of players — may not significantly cut into many MLB Extra Innings subscriptions just yet.

But operators, satellite distributors and telcos will have to keep a wary eye on the company as it looks to move from the minors to the major leagues of home entertainment.